BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court awarded compensation on Monday to a mother sent to a labor camp after demanding justice for her daughter who had been raped, in a high-profile case that sparked debate about reform of the controversial labor-camp system.

Authorities in the southern city of Yongzhou in Hunan province sentenced Tang Hui to 18 months in a labor camp last August for "disturbing social order" after she demanded the men who had raped her then 11-year-old daughter be executed.

China's "re-education through labor" system, in place since 1957, empowers police and other agencies to detain people for up to four years without a court process.

Despite long-standing international criticism of the camps, many Chinese people are largely oblivious to them because many of those who are locked up are poor and on the fringes of society and their cases are not publicized.

But Tang gained wide attention following reports in state media, with the case of a mother demanding justice for her daughter resonating with the public.

State media and microbloggers seized on the case to question the labor-camp system, saying it violated human rights and the rule of law. A group of lawyers wrote to the central government seeking the repeal of the system.

Tang spent a little over a week in the camp before being released following a public outcry.

On Monday, Hunan's high court overturned an April decision from a lower court and ordered the Yongzhou municipal re-education through labor commission to offer 2,941 yuan ($480) to Tang in compensation for infringing on her personal freedom and inflicting mental distress.

However, while Hunan's high court maintained that Tang's behavior was still illegal, it criticized the Yongzhou authorities for inappropriately handling her case by sending her to the labor camp.

The high court also did not demand the Yongzhou government issue a written apology for Tang as she had requested.

Still, one of Tang's lawyers said he was happy with the outcome.

"It's a very important comfort for her, and she's very relieved," Xu Liping Told Reuters by telephone. "She just wants to get back to having a normal family life now."

Court officials could not be reached for comment.

Xu said he hoped the case could expedite reform of the labor camp system.

"Since last August, this case has shown its influence on prompting reform of the system, and I hope this result will speed up considerations among national leaders to repeal it," he said.

The government has promised to phase out the system but has given no timetable.

($1 = 6.1375 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Hui Li and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)